Saturday, October 18, 2008

Time Not to Fight, But to Unite

So, here's the deal. I completely understand my many conservative friends' concerns about Barack Obama. He is inexperienced, and he has not fleshed out his various proposals in enough detail to evaluate them to an optimal extent. We cannot be entirely sure about who we are getting as our next President, but here is the point.

Barring some catastrophe, Barack Obama is going to be our next President. So attacking his patriotism, his character, and his past associations at this point is akin to attacking our country.

Conservatives love to say they love our country, as if others do not. "Patriots" love to pretend that serving this country in military uniform is the only way to demonstrate loyalty. To me, as a former Peace Corps Volunteer, this is a very narrow and a very parochial view of what America has been, and may yet again be, in the world.

I love my country as much, if not more, than any conservative I've ever met. I'll match my work and life against anyone else's. People like me, Baby Boomers who protested against a stupid, unnecessary war in Vietnam, as well against the horrible racism that surrounded us as we grew up, are, in my view the most loyal Americans.

We did not join the military, which was the automatic way to express your patriotism, but chose a more difficult path. We actually cared enough about our country to tell our government when it was wrong. We spoke out, put our own lives and futures on the line.

Starting in 1971, I worked with returning vets from Vietnam who were traumatized by their time there. They formed a group called Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW.) Many of the leaders of this group became friends of mine, including the man whose life the movie "Born of the 4th of July" was based on.

As I talked with these guys, who were plagued by so many problems -- alcohol and drug abuse, violence toward friends and family, confusion as to how to fit back into our fast-changing society, I gradually came to realize that our paths had been traveled in parallel.

All of us loved our country, equally. We all were idealists. But we also shared a deep disappointment with what our country had become.

Plus, we realized, it was politicians who divided us, each from the other. First and foremost, manipulative men like Richard Nixon.

It's too late for all of that now. I call on all conservatives to unite behind the next President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Why? Because if you truly love this country, you will abandon partisanship and help him build our society back up to what it ought to be, not the third-rate, has-been nation that George W. Bush, the worst President in our history, is leaving behind.

Who would want this awful job? Only a patriot of the first order. Only a John McCain or a Barack Obama.

Think about it.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Apocalypse Now

Now that I have so arrogantly dissed both major party candidates for their economic plans, I should probably connect up the threads between their plans and the vision I laid out in my own long series (not that anyone has read them or cares what I think.)

We are living in an age where a global economy has supplanted the national economies that were previously paramount.

The problem is that our political leaders still act as if they (and we) have the power to improve our own economic circumstances independently from global forces.

We don't.

In this one sense, I do not care who wins the Presidency. Neither candidate has impressed me with an economic policy proposal that is credible. They both are pandering to their bases, which are filled with scared folks stuck in a vision of life that will never return, a past that will not be replicated ever again -- not only here, in the land of greed and excess, but anywhere on earth.

Think we are suffering? Check ot what is happening in China. We are all now inextricably intertwined. What happens to the least of us impacts the most privileged among us.

Even though we have witnessed the greatest transfer of wealth upwards in history here in America, that is but a temporary state. What do you and I, stuck in the wreckage of what once was known as the "middle class," have in common with these super-rich people.


McCain actually spoke one salient truth in the third debate, when he discussed "class warfare." His error was identifying that outcome with his opponent, who probably represents instead the last, best hope for the rich to preserve their position, by tamping down the populist anger that is sweeping this nation now with an unprecedented momentum.

Unless Obama can establish plans that give new hope to middle class families that their dreams are viable, we are at a juncture in history where the super-rich are going to have to find the equivalent of the impregnable castles of the Middle Ages in order to survive -- and then, only temporarily.

Because walls never hold back history.

A backlash is building in this, and many other countries, that will make the riots of the 1960s look like child's play. When millions of people no longer have anything to lose, their collective fury will destroy anything that stands in their way.

Sadly, that will include much of what makes this country special...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Obama's Economic GPA

As the former Professor I am, it is hard to resist grading the candidates on their economics proposals. As a former math major, then an econ major, at the University of Michigan in the '60s, I do have a grounding in the theoretical macro-economics that these candidates are clearly struggling to master.

I have already graded John McCain's plan, which impressed me in many ways, but yielded only a 2.33. A C+.

Now on to Senator Obama.

As near as I can determine, his proposals revolve around:

* Suspending the tax on unemployment benefits as well as extending benefits (A).

* Allowing people to withdraw up to 10,000 dollars from their retirement accounts without any penalty this year and next (A).

* A 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures at some banks (C).

* A two-year tax break for businesses that create new jobs (C).

The main problem with his plan is that it is too thin. It does not address other aspects of the financial crisis we are experiencing. McCain at least tried to propose some measures beyond the easy stuff. Is Obama resisting doing so because he has the lead?

So, I have to add an (F) to Obama's plan for lack of attention to relevant detail.

So, his GPA comes out at 2.40, also a C+, but barely ahead of McCain. In short, I am disappointed with both candidates. At a moment when we need specifics, they are only delivering politically safe ideas.

That doesn't make it in this Professor's class, sorry. Both candidates should be ashamed of themselves. We do not need more C+ students in America. We've been living under one of those these past eight years, and it doesn't take an econ major to tell you that the result has been a disaster.

Whoever is our next President, I hope he rises above these levels. And before I vote on Nov. 4th, I hope one of these candidates delivers a more robust plan.


Update: Was "Joe the Plumber" a Plant?

As the evidence rolls in, something smells very fishy about "Joe the Plumber." There is speculation that the McCain campaign was so desperate that they "set up" the Obama-Joe meeting that led to last night's spectacle.

Here is a post from one of the credible sources chasing this story:

There are a lot of questions being asked now about the star of last night's debate, Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher. To many he seemed perfect-- maybe a little too perfect for the role he was playing: Joe Six-Pack.
It turns out Mr. Wurzelbacher is not a licensed plumber. He's not a licensed plumber, yet he is planning on starting his own plumbing business. Hmmmm. It also turns out that Mr. Wurzelbacher had a tax-lien placed against him because he owes $1,183 in back taxes.
It also looks as though Joe Wurzelbacher is related to Robert Wurzelbacher, the son-in-law of Charles Keating of Keating 5 fame. Readers will remember that John McCain was involved in the Keating 5 scandal. Both Charles Keating and Robert Wurzelbacher went to prison for corruption. Robert Wurzelbacher is now out of prison and a big donor for the Republican Party.
Of course it could all be a coincidence right? Well, here's another funny coincidence: Joe the Plumber lived in Arizona from 1997-2000. He lived at 1960 W. Keating Ave in Mesa, Arizona. There's that name again-- KEATING. It turns out that Keating Ave is named after-- you guessed it-- CHARLES KEATING, who developed the real estate in the 1970s.
Lots of "coincidences" there folks. Was Joe the Plumber Wurzelbacher a PLANT? It's too early to say definitively, we're still connecting the dots; but it doesn't look good for John McCain. The whole thing looks desperate and orchestrated.

Obviously, there is still a lot to determine about the "Joe the Plumber" story. I truly hope this was not an example of dirty tricks politics by McCain, because, in my eyes, he is a true American hero.

I know politics is a tough and dirty business, and that the only people elected President are ruthless. Yes, that includes Barack Obama, just check out his background in Chicago politics.

But as tough as Obama plays the game, he plays fair, according to every and any record available. I always thought McCain ran his campaigns that way too.

I guess we all have to wait and see and hope that this was not a manufactured incident by the McCain people, because if it turns out that it was, not only will McCain lose this election, his political legacy will be forever tarnished by the "Joe the Plumber" lie.



Joe the Plumber

He's no Rosie the Riveter, but this ain't the '40s, either. So, we'll have to make due with old "Joe the Plumber."

So who, exactly, is "Joe the Plumber?" According to a number of bloggers, he is a relative of Charles Keating, of the "Keating 5," the man who came the closest to destroying John McCain's career in the Savings & Loan scandal.

Now, I cannot independently verify this information yet, but since it is riding a huge wave across the Internet, I thought I'd put up the link to the original report. If it holds up, this guy (Martin, not Joe) will have made quite a name for himself.

If it doesn't prove to be true, Martin's credibility will certainly be shot.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I just saw a rebroadcast of tonight's debate. OMG!

Two words: Kennedy-Nixon. In case, you don't get the reference, Obama is Kennedy and McCain is Nixon.

The outcome of this election, on November 4th, is now sealed, barring some sort of anti-democratic intervention.

President Obama will win this election by somewhere around 170 electoral votes. It's over, folks.

It's time to honor Senator McCain's service to this country, as he fades from the national stage. But this is a time for new, vigorous leadership, which is what Senator Obama offers all of us.


The Three E's, Revisited

First, I did not get to see tonight's debate. I was at a business dinner, so I don't know what happened, who "won" or anything otherwise salient at this point.

Instead, I want to review the candidates' economic plans, which they unveiled in the days leading up to the debate. First, Senator John McCain. He delivered a straight-forward six-point plan. (Tomorrow, I will try to do the same for Senator Barack Obama's plan.)

1. Eliminate taxes on unemployment benefits. (Wonderful idea. Have you ever tried to live on unemployment benefits? Not only is it impossible, in any state in the union, to try and set aside a quarter or so of these paltry payments for taxes is a ludicrous proposition. "A")

2. Guarantee 100% of all savings accounts for a period of six months. (I see what he is getting at here, trying to stem bank runs, and the idea may have some merit. But the federally insured deposit limit has already been raised from $100,000 to $250,000 per account. Anyone with more than that in savings simply has to break them up into individual accounts. If someone is that rich and too stupid to do it, I'd just as soon see them lose their money, if it comes to that. This is a bad idea. "F")

3. Cut capital gains tax in half for the next two years. (This might have appealed to middle class people before the current financial crisis, because the prospect of selling their homes or their stock market holdings was clouded by a capital gains penalty. But frankly, most of the value in those homes and investment accounts has disappeared. This is an outdated idea. "F")

4. Enabling people to write off stock losses quicker and with a higher limit. (This is straight-out a great idea, because the little people get hit far harder when stocks fall than big institutional investors. Of course, under this proposal, both would benefit. "A")

5. Cutting taxes on withdrawals from IRAs to 10 percent. ("A")

6. Instruct the Treasury to buy mortgages from people at risk of foreclosure, then re-negotiate the loans based on their homes' new values. (This is on the right track, but it lacks several critical components. One is holding the individuals who "bought" these homes accountable for their own lack of personal accountability. Another is to hold the real estate agents, mortgage brokers, and banks accountable for their (criminal) roles in the sub-prime crisis. So, in my view, an unconditional bailout for consumers does not float my boat. But, in the end, renegotiating these bad mortgages is a necessary evil, sadly, to fix what is wrong with our economy. "C")

Final grade: 3 A's, 1 C, 2 F's. GPA: 2.33 (C+).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Beware of Big Lies

In the heat of a tightly-contested election, it may be natural for the losing side to grow desperate, and to begin to lash out at their opponents by circulating gossip, rumor, half-truths, distortions, lies and disinformation.

However, in a democracy, we believe that truth is a more powerful weapon than lies. It was Hitler who in his tract Mein Kampf in 1925, argues that a "big lie" could be a wonderful form of propaganda. His big lie, as we all know, was that Germany's (indeed the world's) problems were all due to the Jews. An ethnic holocaust of unprecedented proportions resulted.

In America, 2008, the following big lies are being circulating about Barack Obama:

* He's a Moslem. (He's not, never has been. Rather he is a devout Christian.)

* He is friends with a terrorist. (He's not, rather he went to a few meetings with a respected Professor from the University of Chicago, and a former classmate of mine from the University of Michigan named Bill Ayres. His "Weather Underground" was an anti-war group that took great care to bomb symbolic targets, like ROTC recruiting stations and CIA offices -- when no persons would be present. They apparently made a mistake one night in Madison, Wisconsin, when a late-working researcher died in an explosion on campus. Even contemporaneous reports did not call Ayres a "terrorist" but a "radical protester." Personally, I rejected his violence, and would never have anything to do with the Weather group had they asked, but they were a pale shadow of a threat compared to Osma bin-Laden's maniacal suicide bombers. Is Ayres the only young person to have made a mistake? And, BTW, he was never even convicted of any violent crimes. Like many idealistic youths of my generation, he eventually came to regret his actions, settled down, raised a family, and developed a distinguished career as a professor and a community activist working on housing and poverty issues. That's how he met, in passing, the much younger Obama, who never engaged in violent protests, but worked door to door, trying to help the poor on Chicago's impoverished south side. As for Ayes, whatever happened to Christian compassion, forgiveness and redemption?

*His plans for America represent socialism. Can anyone who actually buys this crap define socialism for me, using classic texts, and specific examples in Obama's platform and announced plans? This is probably the most ludicrous charge of all. It is fear-mongering, plain and simple. Obama, like McCain. voted for the $700 billion bailout bill. There's no evidence either man liked being forced into supporting that bill, they both did what was clearly best for the country under dire circumstances.

Before allowing "big lies" like these three influence your vote this November, please take some time to gather facts and study history.

Toward that end, below, I have pasted a copy of the Port Huron Statement, which in 1962 launched the Students for a Democratic Society, from which the Weather Underground split off from later in the decade. Read it. It reflects the idealism of my generation as we confronted the ugliness of racism and the horrors of the Vietnam War, a war, like the one in Iraq, that never should have been fought.

I challenge anyone to read this statement of hope and call my generation of hard-working people, who have gone in the Peace Corps, Vista, non-profit organizations of all kinds, joined community groups, written, spoken and organized our fellow citizens to elevate the level of public debate and political conversation in America. As its luckiest and best educated sons and daughters, we felt obliged to do this work, and we continue to.

Resist the Big Lies. And always remember: "Those who choose to ignore history are doomed to repeat it."

Port Huron Statement
Introduction: Agenda for a Generation

We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.

When we were kids the United States was the wealthiest and strongest country in the world; the only one with the atom bomb, the least scarred by modern war, an initiator of the United Nations that we thought would distribute Western influence throughout the world. Freedom and equality for each individual, government of, by, and for the people--these American values we found god, principles by which we could live as men. Many of us began maturing in complacency.

As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss. First, the permeating and victimizing fact of human degradation, symbolized by the Southern struggle against racial bigotry, compelled most of us from silence to activism. Second, the enclosing fact of the Cold War, symbolized by the presence of the Bomb, brought awareness that we ourselves, and our friends, and millions of abstract "others" we knew more directly because of our common peril, might die at any time. We might deliberately ignore, or avoid, or fail to feel all other human problems, but not these two, for these were too immediate and crushing in their impact, too challenging in the demand that we as individuals take the responsibility for encounter and resolution.

While these and other problems either directly oppressed us or rankled our consciences and became our own subjective concerns, we began to see complicated and disturbing paradoxes in our surrounding America. The declaration "all men are created equal..." rang hollow before the facts of Negro life in the South and the big cities of the North. The proclaimed peaceful intentions of the United States contradicted its economic and military investments in the Cold War status quo.

We witnessed, and continue to witness, other paradoxes. With nuclear energy whole cities can easily be powered, yet the dominant nation-states seem more likely to unleash destruction greater than that incurred in all wars of human history. Although our own technology is destroying old and creating new forms of social organization, men still tolerate meaningless work and idleness. While two-thirds of mankind suffers under nourishment, our own upper classes revel amidst superfluous abundance. Although world population is expected to double in forty years, the nations still tolerate anarchy as a major principle of international conduct and uncontrolled exploitation governs the sapping of the earth's physical resources. Although mankind desperately needs revolutionary leadership, America rests in national stalemate, its goals ambiguous and tradition-bound instead of informed and clear, its democratic system apathetic and manipulated rather than "of, by, and for the people."

Not only did tarnish appear on our image of American virtue, not only did disillusion occur when the hypocrisy of American ideals was discovered, but we began to sense that what we had originally seen as the American Golden Age was actually the decline of an era. The worldwide outbreak of revolution against colonialism and imperialism, the entrenchment of totalitarian states, the menace of war, overpopulation, international disorder, supertechnology--these trends were testing the tenacity of our own commitment to democracy and freedom and our abilities to visualize their application to a world in upheaval.

Our work is guided by the sense that we may be the last generation in the experiment with living. But we are a minority--the vast majority of our people regard the temporary equilibriums of our society and world as eternally functional parts. In this is perhaps the outstanding paradox; we ourselves are imbued with urgency, yet the message of our society is that there is no viable alternative to the present. Beneath the reassuring tones of the politicians, beneath the common opinion that America will "muddle through," beneath the stagnation of those who have closed their minds to the future, is the pervading feeling that there simply are no alternatives, that our times have witnessed the exhaustion not only of Utopias, but of any new departures as well. Feeling the press of complexity upon the emptiness of life, people are fearful of the thought that at any moment things might be thrust out of control. They fear change itself, since change might smash whatever invisible framework seems to hold back chaos for them now. For most Americans, all crusades are suspect, threatening. The fact that each individual sees apathy in his fellows perpetuates the common reluctance to organize for change. The dominant institutions are complex enough to blunt the minds of their potential critics, and entrenched enough to swiftly dissipate or entirely repel the energies of protest and reform, thus limiting human expectancies. Then, too, we are a materially improved society, and by our own improvements we seem to have weakened the case for further change.

Some would have us believe that Americans feel contentment amidst prosperity--but might it not better be called a glaze above deeply felt anxieties about their role in the new world? And if these anxieties produce a developed indifference to human affairs, do they not as well produce a yearning to believe that there is an alternative to the present, that something can be done to change circumstances in the school, the workplaces, the bureaucracies, the government? It is to this latter yearning, at once the spark and engine of change, that we direct our present appeal. The search for truly democratic alternatives to the present, and a commitment to social experimentation with them, is a worthy and fulfilling human enterprise, one which moves us and, we hope, others today. On such a basis do we offer this document of our convictions and analysis: as an effort in understanding and changing the conditions of humanity in the late twentieth century, an effort rooted in the ancient, still unfulfilled conception of man attaining determining influence over his circumstances of life.

Making values explicit--an initial task in establishing alternatives--is an activity that has been devalued and corrupted. The conventional moral terms of the age, the politician moralities--"free world," "people's democracies"--reflect realities poorly, if at all, and seem to function more as ruling myths than as descriptive principles. But neither has our experience in the universities brought us moral enlightenment. Our professors and administrators sacrifice controversy to public relations; their curriculums change more slowly than the living events of the world; their skills and silence are purchased by investors in the arms race; passion is called unscholastic. The questions we might want raised--what is really important? can we live in a different and better way? if we wanted to change society, how would we do it?--are not thought to be questions of a "fruitful, empirical nature," and thus are brushed aside.

Unlike youth in other countries we are used to moral leadership being exercised and moral dimensions being clarified by our elders. But today, for us, not even the liberal and socialist preachments of the past seem adequate to the forms of the present. Consider the old slogans: Capitalism Cannot Reform Itself, United Front Against Fascism, General Strike, All Out on May Day. Or, more recently, No Cooperation with Commies and Fellow Travelers, Ideologies Are Exhausted, Bipartisanship, No Utopias. These are incomplete, and there are few new prophets. It has been said that our liberal and socialist predecessors were plagued by vision without program, while our own generation is plagued by program without vision. All around us there is astute grasp of method, technique--the committee, the ad hoc group, the lobbyist, the hard and soft sell, the make, the projected image--but, if pressed critically, such expertise in incompetent to explain its implicit ideals. It is highly fashionable to identify oneself by old categories, or by naming a respected political figure, or by explaining "how we would vote" on various issues.

Theoretic chaos has replaced the idealistic thinking of old--and, unable to reconstitute theoretic order, men have condemned idealism itself. Doubt has replaced hopefulness--and men act out a defeatism that is labeled realistic. The decline of utopia and hope is in fact one of the defining features of social life today. The reasons are various: the dreams of the older left were perverted by Stalinism and never re-created; the congressional stalemate makes men narrow their view of the possible; the specialization of human activity leaves little room for sweeping thought; the horrors of the twentieth century symbolized in the gas ovens and concentration camps and atom bombs, have blasted hopefulness. To be idealistic is to be considered apocalyptic, deluded. To have no serious aspirations, on the contrary, is to be "tough-minded."

In suggesting social goals and values, therefore, we are aware of entering a sphere of some disrepute. Perhaps matured by the past, we have no formulas, no closed theories--but that does not mean values are beyond discussion and tentative determination. A first task of any social movement is to convince people that the search for orienting theories and the creation of human values is complex but worthwhile. We are aware that to avoid platitudes we must analyze the concrete conditions of social order. But to direct such an analysis we must use the guideposts of basic principles. Our own social values involve conceptions of human beings, human relationships, and social systems.

We regard men as infinitely precious and possessed of unfulfilled capacities for reason, freedom, and love. In affirming these principles we are aware of countering perhaps the dominant conceptions of man in the twentieth century: that he is a thing to be manipulated, and that he is inherently incapable of directing his own affairs. We oppose the depersonalization that reduces human being to the status of things--if anything, the brutalities of the twentieth century teach that means and ends are intimately related, that vague appeals to "posterity" cannot justify the mutilations of the present. We oppose, too, the doctrine of human incompetence because it rests essentially on the modern fact that men have been "competently" manipulated into incompetence--we see little reason why men cannot meet with increasing the skill the complexities and responsibilities of their situation, if society is organized not for minority, but for majority, participation in decision-making.

Men have unrealized potential for self-cultivation, self-direction, self-understanding, and creativity. It is this potential that we regard as crucial and to which we appeal, not to the human potentiality for violence, unreason, and submission to authority. The goal of man and society should be human independence: a concern not with image of popularity but with finding a meaning in life that is personally authentic; a quality of mind not compulsively driven by a sense of powerlessness, nor one which unthinkingly adopts status values, nor one which represses all threats to its habits, but one which has full, spontaneous access to present and past experiences, one which easily unites the fragmented parts of personal history, one which openly faces problems which are troubling and unresolved; one with an intuitive awareness of possibilities, an active sense of curiosity, an ability and willingness to learn.

This kind of independence does not mean egotistic individualism--the object is not to have one's way so much as it is to have a way that is one's own. Nor do we deify man--we merely have faith in his potential.

Human relationships should involve fraternity and honesty. Human interdependence is contemporary fact; human brotherhood must be willed, however, as a condition of future survival and as the most appropriate form of social relations. Personal links between man and man are needed, especially to go beyond the partial and fragmentary bonds of function that bind men only as worker to worker, employer to employee, teacher to student, American to Russian.

Loneliness, estrangement, isolation describe the vast distance between man and man today. These dominant tendencies cannot be overcome by better personnel management, nor by improved gadgets, but only when a love of man overcomes the idolatrous worship of things by man. As the individualism we affirm is not egoism, the selflessness we affirm is not self-elimination. On the contrary, we believe in generosity of a kind that imprints one's unique individual qualities in the relation to other men, and to all human activity. Further, to dislike isolation is not to favor the abolition of privacy; the latter differs from isolation in that it occurs or is abolished according to individual will.

We would replace power rooted in possession, privilege, or circumstance by power and uniqueness rooted in love, reflectiveness, reason, and creativity. As a social system we seek the establishment of a democracy of individual participation, governed by two central aims: that the individual share in those social decisions determining the quality and direction of his life; that society be organized to encourage independence in men and provide the media for their common participation.

In a participatory democracy, the political life would be based in several root principles: that decision-making of basic social consequence be carried on by public groupings;

that politics be seen positively, as the art of collectively creating an acceptable pattern of social relations;

that politics has the function of bringing people out of isolation and into community, thus being a necessary, though not sufficient, means of finding meaning in personal life;

that the political order should serve to clarify problems in a way instrumental to their solution; it should provide outlets for the expression of personal grievance and aspiration; opposing views should be organized so as to illuminate choices and facilitate the attainment of goals; channels should be commonly available to relate men to knowledge and to power so that private problems--from bad recreation facilities to personal alienation--are formulated as general issues.

The economic sphere would have as its basis the principles:

that work should involve incentives worthier than money or survival. It should be educative, not stultifying; creative, not mechanical; self-directed, not manipulated, encouraging independence, a respect for others, a sense of dignity, and a willingness to accept social responsibility, since it is this experience that has crucial influence on habits, perceptions and individual ethics;

that the economic experience is so personally decisive that the individual must share in its full determination;

that the economy itself is of such social importance that its major resources and means of production should be open to democratic participation and subject to democratic social regulation.

Like the political and economic ones, major social institutions--cultural, educational, rehabilitative, and others--should be generally organized with the well-being and dignity of man as the essential measure of success.

In social change or interchange, we find violence to be abhorrent because it requires generally the transformation of the target, be it a human being or a community of people, into a depersonalized object of hate. It is imperative that the means of violence be abolished and the institutions--local, national, international--that encourage non-violence as a condition of conflict be developed.

These are our central values, in skeletal form. It remains vital to understand their denial or attainment in the context of the modern world.
The Students

In the last few years, thousands of American students demonstrated that they at least felt the urgency of the times. They moved actively and directly against racial injustices, the threat of war, violations of individual rights of conscience, and, less frequently, against economic manipulation. They succeeded in restoring a small measure of controversy to the campuses after the stillness of the McCarthy period. They succeeded, too, in gaining some concessions from the people and institutions they opposed, especially in the fight against racial bigotry.

The significance of these scattered movements lies not in their success or failure in gaining objectives--at least, not yet. Nor does the significance lie in the intellectual "competence" or "maturity" of the students involved--as some pedantic elders allege. The significance is in the fact that students are breaking the crust of apathy and overcoming the inner alienation that remain the defining characteristics of American college life.

If student movements for change are still rarities on the campus scene, what is commonplace there? The real campus, the familiar campus, is a place of private people, engaged in their notorious "inner emigration." It is a place of commitment to business-as-usual, getting ahead, playing it cool. It is a place of mass affirmation of the Twist, but mass reluctance toward the controversial public stance. Rules are accepted as "inevitable," bureaucracy as "just circumstances," irrelevance as "scholarship," selflessness as "martyrdom," politics as "just another way to make people, and an unprofitable one, too."

Almost no students value activity as citizens. Passive in public, they are hardly more idealistic in arranging their private lives: Gallup concludes they will settle for "low success, and won't risk high failure." There is not much willingness to take risks (not even in business), no setting of dangerous goals, no real conception of personal identity except one manufactured in the image of others, no real urge for personal fulfillment except to be almost as successful as the very successful people. Attention is being paid to social status (the quality of shirt collars, meeting people, getting wives or husbands, making solid contacts for later on); much, too, is paid to academic status (grades, honors, the med school rat race). But neglected generally is real intellectual status, the personal cultivation of the mind.

"Students don't even give a damn abut the apathy," one has said. Apathy toward apathy begets a privately constructed universe, a place of systematic study schedules, two nights each week for beer, a girl or two, and early marriage; a framework infused with personality, warmth, and under control, no matter how unsatisfying otherwise.

Under these conditions university life loses all relevance to some. Four hundred thousand of our classmates leave college every year.

The accompanying "let's pretend" theory of student extracurricular affairs validates student government as a training center for those who want to live their lives in political pretense, and discourages initiative from the more articulate, honest, and sensitive students. The bounds and style of controversy are delimited before controversy begins. The university "prepares" the student for "citizenship" through perpetual rehearsals and, usually, through emasculation of what creative spirit there is in the individual.

The academic life contains reinforcing counterparts to the way in which extracurricular life is organized. The academic world is founded on a teacher-student relations analogous to the parent-child relation which characterizes in loco parentis. Further, academia includes a radical separation of the student from the material of study. That which is studies, the social reality, is "objectified" to sterility, dividing the student from life--just as he is restrained in active involvement by the deans controlling student government. The specialization of function and knowledge, admittedly necessary to our complex technological and social structure, has produced an exaggerated compartmentalization of study and understanding. This has contributed to an overly parochial view, by faculty, of the role of its research and scholarship; to a discontinuous and truncated understanding, by students, of the surrounding social order; and to a loss of personal attachment, by nearly all, to the worth of study as a humanistic enterprise.

There is, finally, the cumbersome academic bureaucracy extending throughout the academic as well as the extracurricular structures, contributing to the sense of outer complexity and inner powerlessness that transforms the honest searching of many students to a ratification of convention and, worse, to a numbness to present and future catastrophes. The size and financing systems of the university enhance the permanent trusteeship of the administrative bureaucracy, their power leading to a shift within the university toward the value standards of business and the administrative mentality. Huge foundations and other private financial interests shape the under financed colleges and universities, making them not only more commercial, but less disposed to diagnose society critically, less open to dissent. Many social and physical scientists, neglecting the liberating heritage of higher learning, develop "human relations" or "morale-producing" techniques for the corporate economy, while others exercise their intellectual skills to accelerate the arms race.

Tragically, the university could serve as a significant source of social criticism and an initiator of new modes and molders of attitudes. But the actual intellectual effect of the college experience is hardly distinguishable from that of any other communications channel--say, a television set--passing on the stock truths of the day. Students leave college somewhat more "tolerant" than when they arrived, but basically unchallenged in their values and political orientations. With administrators ordering the institution, and faculty the curriculum, the student learns by his isolation to accept elite rule within the university, which prepares him to accept later forms of minority control. The real function of the educational system--as opposed to its more rhetorical function of "searching for truth"--is to impart the key information and styles that will help the student get by, modestly but comfortably, in the big society beyond.
The Society Beyond

Look beyond the campus, to America itself. That student life is more intellectual, and perhaps more comfortable, does not obscure the fact that the fundamental qualities of life on the campus reflect the habits of society at large. The fraternity president is seen at the junior manager levels; the sorority queen has gone to Grosse Pointe; the serious poet burns for a place, any place, to work; the once-serious and never-serious poets work at the advertising agencies. The desperation of people threatened by forces about which they know little and of which they can say less; the cheerful emptiness of people "giving up" all hope of changing things; the faceless ones polled by Gallup who listed "international affairs" fourteenth on their list of "problems" but who also expected thermonuclear war in the next few years; in these and other forms, Americans are in withdrawal from public life, from any collective effort at directing their own affairs.

Some regard these national doldrums as a sign of healthy approval of the established order--but is it approval by consent or manipulated acquiescence? Others declare that the people are withdrawn because compelling issues are fast disappearing--perhaps there are fewer bread lines in America, but is Jim Crow gone, is there enough work and work more fulfilling, is world war a diminishing threat, and what of the revolutionary new peoples? Still others think the national quietude is a necessary consequence of the need for elites to resolve complex and specialized problems of modern industrial society--but then, why should business elites help decide foreign policy, and who controls the elites anyway, and are they solving mankind's problems? Others, finally, shrug knowingly and announce that full democracy never worked anywhere in the past--but why lump qualitatively different civilizations together, and how can a social order work well if its best thinkers are skeptics, and is man really doomed forever to the domination of today?

There are now convincing apologies for the contemporary malaise. While the world tumbles toward the final war, while men in other nations are trying desperately to alter events, while the very future qua future is uncertain--America is without community impulse, without the inner momentum necessary for an age when societies cannot successfully perpetuate themselves by their military weapons, when democracy must be viable because of its quality of life, not its quantity of rockets.

The apathy here is, first, subjective--the felt powerlessness of ordinary people, the resignation before the enormity of events. But subjective apathy is encouraged by the objective American situation--the actual structural separation of people from power, from relevant knowledge, from pinnacles of decision-making. Just as the university influences the student way of life, so do major social institutions create the circumstances in which the isolated citizen will try hopelessly to understand his world and himself.

The very isolation of the individual--from power and community and ability to aspire--means the rise of a democracy without publics. With the great mass of people structurally remote and psychologically hesitant with respect to democratic institutions, those institutions themselves attenuate and become, in the fashion of the vicious circle, progressively less accessible to those few who aspire to serious participation in social affairs. The vital democratic connection between community and leadership, between the mass and the several elites, has been so wrenched and perverted that disastrous policies go unchallenged time and again....
The University and Social Change

There is perhaps little reason to be optimistic about the above analysis. True, the Dixiecrat-GOP coalition is the weakest point in the dominating complex of corporate, military, and political power. But the civil rights, peace, and student movements are too poor and socially slighted, and the labor movement too quiescent, to be counted with enthusiasm. From where else can power and vision be summoned? We believe that the universities are an overlooked seat of influence.

First, the university is located in a permanent position of social influence. It's educational function makes it indispensable and automatically makes it a crucial institution in the formation of social attitudes. Second, in an unbelievably complicated world, it is the central institution for organizing, evaluating and transmitting knowledge. Third, the extent to which academic resources presently are used to buttress immoral social practice is revealed, first, by the extent to which defense contracts make the universities engineers of the arms race. Too, the use of modern social science as a manipulative tool reveals itself in the "human relations" consultants to the modern corporations, who introduce trivial sops to give laborers feelings of "participation" or "belonging," while actually deluding them in order to further exploit their labor. And, of course, the use of motivational research is already infamous as a manipulative aspect of American politics. But these social uses of the universities' resources also demonstrate the unchangeable reliance by men of power on the men and storehouses of knowledge: this makes the university functionally tied to society in new ways, revealing new potentialities, new levers for change. Fourth, the university is the only mainstream institution that is open to participation by individuals of nearly any viewpoint.

These, at least, are facts, no matter how dull the teaching, how paternalistic the rules, how irrelevant the research that goes on. Social relevance, the accessibility to knowledge, and internal openness--these together make the university a potential base and agency in a movement of social change.


Any new left in America must be, in large measure, a left with real intellectual skills, committed to deliberativeness, honesty, reflection as working tools. The university permits the political life to be an adjunct to the academic one, and action to be informed by reason.

A new left must be distributed in significant social roles throughout the country. The universities are distributed in such a manner.

A new left must consist of younger people who matured in the postwar world, and partially be directed to the recruitment of younger people. The university is an obvious beginning point.

A new left must include liberals and socialists, the former for their relevance, the latter for their sense of thoroughgoing reforms in the system. The university is a more sensible place than a political party for these two traditions to begin to discuss their differences and look for political synthesis.

A new left must start controversy across the land, if national policies and national apathy are to be reversed. The ideal university is a community of controversy, within itself and in its effects on communities beyond.

A new left must transform modern complexity into issues that can be understood and felt close up by every human being. It must give form to the feelings of helplessness and indifference, so that people may see the political, social, and economic sources of their private troubles, and organize to change society. In a time of supposed prosperity, moral complacency, and political manipulation, a new left cannot rely on only aching stomachs to be the engine force of social reform. The case for change, for alternatives that will involve uncomfortable personal efforts, must be argued as never before. The university is a relevant place for all of these activities.

But we need not indulge in illusions: the university system cannot complete a movement of ordinary people making demands for a better life. From its schools and colleges across the nation, a militant left might awaken its allies, and by beginning the process towards peace, civil rights, and labor struggles, reinsert theory and idealism where too often reign confusion and political barter. The power of students and faculty united is not only potential; it has shown its actuality in the South, and in the reform movements of the North.

The bridge to political power, though, will be build through genuine cooperation, locally, nationally, and internationally, between a new left of young people and an awakening community of allies. In each community we must look within the university and act with confidence that we can be powerful, but we must look outwards to the less exotic but more lasting struggles for justice.

To turn these mythic possibilities into realities will involve national efforts at university reform by an alliance of students and faculty. They must wrest control of the educational process from the administrative bureaucracy. They must make fraternal and functional contact with allies in labor, civil rights, and other liberal forces outside the campus. They must import major public issues into the curriculum--research and teaching on problems of war and peace is an outstanding example. They must make debate and controversy, not dull pedantic cant, the common style for educational life. They must consciously build a base for their assault upon the loci of power.

As students for a democratic society, we are committed to stimulating this kind of social movement, this kind of vision and program in campus and community across the country. If we appear to seek the unattainable, as it has been said, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Landslide: President Obama

What is shaping up this November is a landslide victory for Senator Barack Obama, a Democrat, over Senator John McCain, a Republican. Two minor third-party candidates, Ralph Nader and Bob Barr, will split perhaps a million votes but will have absolutely no impact on the outcome.

It appears that Obama will now win with well over 300 electoral votes, far more than the 270 needed to prevail. Now that a consensus of political analysts agree that this is inevitable, Republicans, Independents, Conservatives of all sorts are fleeing McCain's campaign.

A huge portion of this decline is due to the choice of Sarah Palin as McCain's V-P running mate. I believe I wrote about his choice that it was a "political error for the ages," though at the time I could not have realized how prescient my words would prove to be.

McCain lost this election when he picked Palin. But he was and is going to lose anyway. What is so wonderful and comforting for all Americans is that our next President will be the better man, Barack Obama.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Haruki Murakami

Now and then, in this life, we are blessed to glimpse pure genius. That was the gift several thousand of us experienced last night at the Zellerbach Auditorium on the U-C, Berkeley campus. Haruki Murakami, who in my view, is the greatest living writer in the world, appeared to read and discuss his works.

He is an unassuming man, simple and direct. His stories also come unfiltered straight from his heart. They are universal in nature, if Japanese in particular. The gift of this writer is to transcend these cultural boundaries that divide us, one from the other, whilst tapping into a deeper level of our common humanity.

This, of course, is art. Our race, color, gender, age, political and/or sexual orientation issues are quite tiny compared to what we share in common. Murakami's stories move beyond all of that.

The man himself is as funny and deeply moving as any writer could ever hope to be. He is an international treasure. He belongs to all of us, one of Japan's true gifts to humanity.


Children's Beauty; An Old Man's Hope

Here is my lovely grandson, Luca, who has graced my weekend with his presence. As many have noted, he is the spitting image of his Mom when she was a baby, though roughly twice her size.

He is a dreamer, according to his T-shirt, but something else. He smiles, interacts, notices, and "talks" with his mouth and his hands. He is one of the most responsive two and a half month olds I have ever encountered.

His large blue eyes are mesmerizing. You get the feeling he doesn't miss anything that comes within his field of vision, even now, when he cannot yet move around. I can't wait for the time that is coming, a few months hence, when Luca starts rolling over, lifting up, and bringing the world to his own terms!

It was a Saturday, which means I drove 80 miles and watched two (in this case) disappointing soccer games. But my own personal athletes excelled.

It must be hard for a non-parent to appreciate, but when you see your child dance, sing, act, or play a game with all of his skill and passion, you give up a little bit of yourself, in a good way. It is a natural part of the dying process, one that leaves a smile on your face.

As a writer, I am quite used to giving up a piece of myself. I do that every time I lay down another one of these blog posts.

Think of this kind of writing as akin to laying your tongue, foolishly, on a frozen bridge. Painfully, you peel away less than when you placed your tongue at such risk. One cannot do this forever, not honestly. Something gets diminished with every effort. You have less and less to give.

When you are finally finished, drained, no more words will flow. You will fall silent. Even then, your eyes and ears will still tell you the story that your lips can no longer speak.

The beauty of our children reminds us, as they take their place, in the natural order of things, that while we move aside, into the silence of history, along with all of the other ghosts, screaming silently into our ears that never seem quite able to hear, this is the way it is meant to be.

That, I believe, is the image that believers call heaven, or perhaps also hell. Either way, it's about being on the outside looking in. Remembering but no longer able to do any of it. Knowing deep in your soul, that this is how it is meant to be. That it is time to let go, to fly away, but also to send one final kiss from your lips to theirs, with the enduring message of eternal love.

The most powerful three words are and forever will be, "I love you."

I love you, dear readers.